VisitScotland says come here for Hogmanay – then escape the crowds

SCOTLAND'S tourism agency is under fire for branding the country's big Hogmanay celebrations overcrowded and "overpriced".

• New Year revellers enjoy the open-air delights of Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations – thousands are expected to turn out again this year

Organisers of the high-profile events and celebrations have hit out after discovering potential visitors are being encouraged to stage their own exclusive house parties instead.

VisitScotland has launched a campaign highlighting the benefits of hiring castles, country house hotels, lodges, and bunkhouses over Hogmanay.

The publicity material which triggered the row states: "Roaring log fires, stunning winter landscapes and great friends – the perfect recipe for a new year house party.

"This year escape the crowds and overpriced party tickets, gather your nearest and dearest and head for Scotland for a Hogmanay house party to remember."

The move has dismayed organisers of flagship Hogmanay events across the country, many of which have been threatened with cutbacks due to dwindling interest and funding problems. No events have sold out yet.

However, tens of thousands of revellers are still expected to flock to open-air parties in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Oban and Inverness. Tickets for most cost up to 15, while, in contrast, it can cost almost 3,000 to hire a youth hostel for one night at Hogmanay.

Huge uncertainty surrounds the future of Scotland's flagship Hogmanay celebrations, amid fears that they will be hit by the squeeze on council budgets.

Aberdeen's party has been cancelled this year, while council leaders in Dundee have rejected calls to revive a major event on the grounds that it cannot afford the cost. The long-running Stirling Castle event, to be headlined by Sandi Thom this year, was given the go-ahead only after a deal was clinched between the council and radio station Central FM.

Steve Cardownie, festivals and events champion in Edinburgh, which is charging 10 for access to Princes Street at Hogmanay, said: "We put in a great deal of effort to keep our ticket prices as low as possible. Who are VisitScotland to say the events are overpriced?"

Gerry Reynolds, events officer at Highland Council, said: "We are really sorry if VisitScotland feels our event is overpriced when all the tickets are free. We've got people coming from as far as the United States, and we've had more than 400,000 hits on our own website in the space of a month."

Neil Mackay, spokesman for Oban's Hogmanay party, said: "We need as much help as we can from VisitScotland to get people down here in the current climate."

Ann Marie Miller, joint promoter of Stirling Castle's party, said: "We've actually cut our ticket price this year to make it more affordable, and we think we're offering very good value for money with three acts for 15."

VisitScotland last night apologised for the wording of its new promotional material, admitting it was "misleading".

A spokeswoman said: "We truly believe Hogmanay party tickets generally offer great value for money and play an essential role in boosting local economies and encouraging visitors to enjoy all Scotland has to offer in winter.

"We're promoting the various Hogmanay parties throughout our Winter White campaign and the VisitScotland.com website and will continue to do so."

VENUES WITH A DIFFERENCE

&#149 Abernethy Bunkhouses, Cairngorms, right, 4,200 per week over Hogmanay. Exclusive use for up to 65 people in Nethy Bunkhouse, which lies deep in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.

&#149 Altskeith, Kinlochard, near Aberfoyle, 5,250 per week over Hogmanay. The large self-catering country house sits on the shores of Loch Ard and boasts spectacular views of Ben Lomond.

&#149 Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel, near Bonar Bridge, Sutherland, left, 2,950 for Hogmanay. The flagship of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association is a famously haunted castle dating from 1906.

&#149 Oban's Hogmanay, Tesco car park, 12.50. Donnie Munro and Skerryvore headline the event, which will feature a Gaelic choir, pipe band and fireworks display.

&#149 Glasgow's Hogmanay, George Square, 15. Deacon Blue and Tommy Reilly headline the annual celebration to round off the city's Winterfest.

&#149 Red Hot Highland Fling, North Meeting Park, Inverness, admission free. The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Peatbog Faeries and Blazin' Fiddles headline the second annual open-air party.